But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28)
When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg door, the first one was this:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.
And in this short phrase he expressed a most biblical and spiritual principle: all of our lives are little more than a constant humbling before God in repentance. The Apostle Peter exhorts us:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
The disciples came to Jesus seeking something which – in principle – was not wrong. They understood in the promises that they would be exalted in heaven. However, their disposition was wrong. They wanted to be exalted for their own interests so they could be above others; not because in humility they were exalted by Christ.
Jesus points them to his own example. He came to minister and not to be ministered to. They also should seek to serve and not to be exalted. This is an example for all ministers of the gospel. Kings and leaders among men may be exalted and govern and exercise authority with pomp and circumstance in Christ’s Kingdom of Power. That is the nature of their service (though, of course, they may cruelly execute that authority and these words ought to be a warning to them as men of Christ). However, those serving in the ministry of the gospel are to humble themselves before God and seek to serve. Even in the exercise of their office as elder; in preaching the gospel, in administering the sacraments rightly, they ought to seek to do so ought of a spirit of humility understanding that they will be subject to stricter punishment (James 3:1).
And for us as laymen, we ought to look upon the example of Christ and humble ourselves before the Father. Our first sin was to exalt ourselves above God; our work of repentance is to put God and our neighbor before ourselves.
I’ll conclude with the words of Thomas Manton:
The best of God’s people have abhorred themselves. Like the spire of a steeple, we are least at the highest.